Russia 'to arm Libya's Haftar in $2bn weapons deal'

Russia 'to arm Libya's Haftar in $2bn weapons deal'
Russia is reportedly set to re-ignite an arms deal that has laid dormant for several years, despite a UN weapons embargo imposed on the chaos-ridden country.
3 min read
25 January, 2017
Russia was one of the main suppliers of weapons to the Gaddafi regime [Getty]

Russia has reportedly reactivated an arms deal with Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar worth $2 billion, despite a UN weapons embargo imposed on the chaos-ridden country.

Haftar's headquarters in the eastern city of al-Marj recently hosted discussions over a deal and its implementation, multiple sources close to the controversial general's command told The New Arab on Thursday.

The deal, initially brokered in 2009, was said to include aircraft including 10 Sukhoi Su-35, four 10 Sukhoi Su-30 and six Yakovlev Yak-130 - as well as several Project 636 Kilo-class submarines, as well as tanks and armoured vehicles.

Moscow has also been providing spare parts for out-of-service Russian-made equipment, the source said.

Last week, Haftar, who is also backed by the Egyptian regime, visited a Russian aircraft carrier off the coast of Libya in the latest sign of growing relations with Moscow.

Haftar met Russian officers and crew before speaking by video link with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu about counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East, according to Russia's defence ministry.

Haftar has been pushing for the United Nations to lift an arms embargo imposed on Libya and sought Russian support for the move during a visit to Moscow in November.

Asked at the time whether he was promised arms during the visit, Haftar said Moscow had told him weapons "can arrive only once the [UN] embargo ends".

One source in Libya added: "It seems that Russia's current interests have pushed it to finally approve activating a 2009 weapons deal… in return for permission to set up a naval base in east Libya. Russian officers inspected several locations in the east to assess their suitability for a naval base before Haftar boarded the ship."

In 2009, Rosoboronexport signed arms contracts with Libya, but Moscow later banned arms sales to the country after the outbreak of the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

A spokesman for Rosoboronexport, which accounts for more than 90 percent of Russia's arms sales, has firmly denied any recent delegation visit to Libya and said that no new deal had been signed.

Ahmed al-Musmari, military spokesman for the Haftar's forces, has also said the 2009 deal, worth $2.4 billion, would be implemented after the embargo was lifted - but denied that Haftar signed any further deals aboard the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.

Russia was one of the main suppliers of weapons to the Gaddafi regime, providing more than 2,000 tanks, 2,000 armoured fighting vehicles, 350 artillery weapons, dozens of ships and fleets of aircraft.

The Government of National Accord [GNA], based in Tripoli, is recognised by the international community.

But Haftar, the controversial head of the so-called Libyan National Army, supports a parallel authority, based in eastern Libya near the border with Egypt, that controls much of the country's oil production.

The bitter divisions in the country are matched by those among the powers pushing for democracy in the conflict-torn country.

Western supporters of the GNA have prioritised the fight against Islamic State extremists and controlling migration flows from Libya towards Europe.

But another group, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia see Haftar's forces as the nucleus of a future military, and are suspicious of the Islamist clout in Tripoli.

Editor's note: This story, originally published on January 19, was updated on January 25 to include Rosoboronexport's position on the reports of the deal.